October 2006
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New Data Provide Detailed Profile of Current and Future College Students

In September, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released its most recent projections of student enrollments in the U.S. Projections of Education Statistics to 2015 predicts continued growth in enrollments at postsecondary institutions through 2015. The most important factor behind this predicted increase, according to the report, is the “expected increase in the traditional college-age population.” In its annual almanac issue, the Chronicle of Higher Education drew upon data from this NCES report as well as statistics from other sources. Together, the data compiled by the Chronicle and the full NCES report provide a detailed picture of college students and the institutions that serve them.

The figures from Chronicle’s almanac that are cited below are based upon data from 2004—the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau have comprehensive statistics. The NCES figures cited below represent the “middle projections” for student enrollment in 2015; low and high sets of projections are also available in the full report.


A Profile of Students Today

  • In 2004, 38 percent of all eighteen- to twenty-year-olds and 46 percent of all high school graduates in the U.S. were enrolled in college.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the students enrolled in college in 2004 were women, 30 percent were from minority groups, and 3 percent were from foreign countries.
  • Forty-one percent of undergraduate students in the 2003–4 academic year had a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Eighty-nine percent of undergraduates in the 2003–4 academic year attended college in their home state.
  • Seventy-four percent of undergraduates in the 2003–4 academic year worked full or part time.

Enrollment Projections

  • Total enrollment at degree-granting institutions is projected to increase 15 percent between 2004 and 2015, from 17.3 million to 19.9 million students.
  • Enrollment at the undergraduate level is projected to increase by 14 percent, while enrollment at the graduate level is projected to increase by 19 percent.
  • Enrollment is projected to increase by 13 percent for students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, and 7 percent for students who are thirty-five years old and over.
  • Enrollment for men is projected to grow by 10 percent and enrollment for women by 18 percent.
  • Enrollment is projected to grow by 6 percent for white, non-Hispanic students, by 27 percent for black, non-Hispanic students, by 42 percent for Hispanic students, by 28 percent for Asian and Pacific Islander students, and by 30 percent for American Indian and Alaska native students.

More information about current and future college students is available in Projections of Education Statistics to 2015 and the Chronicle’s almanac (subscribers only).


  • In 2004, 14,780,630 undergraduates were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.
  • In the 2003–4 academic year, U.S. schools granted 1,399,542 bachelor’s degrees.
  • Twenty-seven percent of adults in the U.S. had attained a bachelor’s or higher degree as of 2004.